The Competition and Markets Authority is investigating retailers and other businesses after finding evidence of potentially unlawful reviews.
- It is estimated £23bn in consumer spending is influenced by reviews
- The CMA has found evidence of fake online reviews and paid endorsements
- Those under suspicion have not yet been named
The CMA launched an investigation after it discovered misleading practices including fake reviews, negative reviews not being published and businesses concealing the fact they had paid for endorsements.
It has not named and shamed any businesses but it is understood a number of retailers are under suspicion, along with manufacturers, media agencies and blog sites.
The CMA in February released a call for evidence on the use of online reviews because it was aware of concerns “about the trustworthiness or impartiality of information in some reviews and endorsements”.
If there has been a breach in consumer protection regulations the CMA could pursue civil action, which would result in fines for any guilty parties.
It is expected the investigation will take months.
Millions influenced by reviews
The CMA estimates more than half of UK adults (54%) use online reviews, and that 6% use blogs or vlogs before making purchases. Forecasts from the CMA suggest that £23bn in consumer spending is influenced by online reviews.
CMA consumer senior director Nisha Arora said: “Millions of people look at online reviews and endorsements before making decisions.
“We have found that consumers who use online reviews and endorsements find them valuable, but we have also heard about some practices that may be unlawful. We are committed to ensuring that consumers’ trust in these important information tools is maintained, and will take enforcement action where necessary to tackle unlawful practices.”
A report by the CMA has called on retailers with reviews on their sites to publish all reviews, even negative ones, and explain why reviews have not been published.
Reviews do not need to be published if they contain swearing, abusive language or defamatory remarks.
Other measures that must be taken include clearly identifying any paid promotions and acting promptly in response to reports of suspected fake reviews.